By Steve Pomper
As a retired Seattle cop, it’s difficult for me to see news items about the sham federal consent decree placed on the stellar officers of the Seattle Police Department (SPD) (incidentally, with the participation of Seattle’s current mayor, Jenny Durkan, when she was the U.S. Attorney for the region). It’s difficult to see because the media tossed out the honest context many years ago.
The New York Post wrote, “‘Biased policing,’ Justice explained in its findings letter to the Seattle PD, ‘is not primarily about the ill-intentioned officer but rather the officer who engages in discriminatory practices subconsciously,’ adding that even a well-meaning cop can violate the civil rights of black suspects by operating “on implicit biases that impact that officer’s behavior or perceptions.”
Imagine that. The DOJ under President Barack “the Cambridge police acted stupidly” Obama and his attorney general, and “wing man,” Eric “cops have unconscious bias” Holder could read police officers’ minds.
Since about a minute after the consent decree went into effect, mainstream media stopped reporting that the consent decree was highly controversial, and its conclusions about SPD officers’ constitutional violations were farcical. Couldn’t honest, objective journalists at least insert “controversial” when they reference the infliction of the decree on the SPD? Oh, wait… I see the answer is in my question.
The consent decree (also called a settlement agreement) was controversial for many reasons. Foremost, they based the consent decree on a fraudulent federal “study” of SPD officer use-of-force. It was also controversial because Seattle was just one of some 20 local police departments under federal “social justice” scrutiny. The Holder DOJ never met a police department that, in his view, was not corrupt and racist.
The consent decree was also controversial because soon after the DOJ’s ridiculous “study findings” came out, a Seattle University Criminal Justice professor, Matthew J. Hickman, also a former DOJ statistician, on his own initiative, debunked the DOJ’s findings.
For example, the Seattle PI reported, officers’ use of impact weapons were “either not justified or excessive in 57 percent of cases.” That number is absurd and likely part of the reason the DOJ refused to release the methodology they used to arrive at their conclusions—not even to their political allies in city government.
In a Special to the Times that appeared in the Seattle Times (Feb. 8th, 2010), the title says it all. “Department of Justice owes the Seattle Police Department an apology.” He also told Seattle leaders to “call the DOJ’s bluff and demand an apology.” Did Seattle’s leaders take the professor’s advice? Of course, not.
Seattle’s flaccid “leadership,” under former Mayor Mike “McSchwinn” McGinn, decided it was more prudent to throw their officers to the DOJ’s wolves than to defend them for the exceptional men and women they are. Since then, SPD officers have had to contend with ridiculous politically partisan protocols that take officers off the streets and that place them at greater risk of unwarranted discipline when they are on the streets.
So, now, about a decade later, the president of the Seattle Police Officers Guild (SPOG), Mike Solan, during a recent interview with Jason Rantz on 770 KTTH Radio, is declaring, “We’re happy members did all the hard work, and it’s time to move on.” He’s so right. Officers who never deserved to work under a consent decree continued to do their duty the best they could under the strain of the federal decree.
During one roll call I attended in 2012, I’ll never forget a consent decree “compliance officer” came to speak to officers. To paraphrase his summation: We know you don’t deserve this, but you have to comply with the consent decree so you can show them (DOJ) that you didn’t deserve it. Isn’t that like being exonerated but you still have to do prison time?
Solan said, “We had the training laid out via the Department of Justice. They wanted an overhaul of use of force policies, investigations, training as far as use of force policies, community policing, community oversights — we went through all those hoops.”
It’s important to remember the DOJ based its decision (which was almost certainly predetermined) on a handful of high-profile cases where no officer was charged with a crime and only one officer was fired. In the latter case, regardless of how you feel about the termination, if the SPD fired the officer, what was the DOJ’s problem?
Now, with the DOJ under new stewardship, Solan said, “the Department of Justice does not see a need any more for us to be doing the consent decree oversight.” AG Jeff Sessions felt federal consent decrees were responsible for increases in crime. The union president spoke about some positive results from finally lifting the decree. “I think you might see a spike in getting actual numbers for recruiting and retaining members because there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”
I’m not as optimistic, but you never know. Remember, the city is led by one of the primary people responsible for inflicting the DOJ fraud on the city. There’s still a city council member who publicly accused two SPD officers of murder (the officers sued and another federal judge threw their case out). And the federal judge, James Robart, overseeing the decree has been reluctant to fully recognize the police department for their efforts to come into “compliance.”
Indeed, after previously finding the department in compliance, the judge partially suspended the finding based on a single controversial incident involving one officer. He had a fit when a state arbitrator, in binding arbitration, ruled the city must rehire the officer. A superior court judge overturned the decision. I guess binding arbitration is a tough concept to grasp—when you lose.
Judge Robart, condescendingly, told a packed courtroom, “Ladies and gentlemen, we are better, but we are not perfect.” Perfect? Is that the standard to which federal overseers will now hold police departments? I suppose it is the best way to perpetuate this quasi-federalization of local law enforcement. And we know who gets to define “perfect.” The judges do. This shouldn’t surprise us. Many have described Judge Robart as an “activist judge” more interested in social justice than equal justice. In fact, he’s one of the regional federal judges who blocked one of President Trump’s immigration executive orders.
Think about this. The federal judge in charge of ruling the Seattle Police Department in compliance with the bogus consent decree, engaged in some massively insulting grandstanding. During a hearing when he ruled against the police union, the judge said, “black lives matter,” implying SPD officers don’t believe that’s true.
Judge Robart added, “The court and citizens of Seattle will not be held hostage for increased payments and benefits.” This referred to contract negotiations between the police rank and file and city. What other leverage does a union have when bargaining a contract than pay and benefit increases in exchange for workplace concessions, such as discipline and other administrative issues?
To wrap this up, SPOG President Mike Solan is spot on. It’s well past time to put this controversial federal consent decree behind the department. The DOJ imposed a consent decree on the fine men and women of the Seattle Police Department that they never deserved, and which should never have been imposed on them.